If you have a picky eater on your hands, one way to combat that culinary fear of the new may be to involve your child in her food’s preparation. Advocates say not only does cooking with your kids increase their willingness to try new foods, but it also reinforces a lot of what they’re learning in school.
“People initially think it will all just end in a big mess, but cooking with your kids incorporates everything, math, science, geography and history,” says Barbara Beery, president of Batter Up Kids, an Austin, Texas–based company that has been teaching kids to cook for the past 20 years. “Plus the parent gets to interact with a child in a way that builds their confidence.”
Here are some tips to get your child started in the kitchen:
Keeping It Simple
To get started, you need a kid-friendly setup — you can’t expect junior to use a 12-inch knife while resting his chin on the countertop, Beery says. She also recommends using recipes with few ingredients to keep things simple. Bread is ideal, with three or four ingredients and no open flame when you bake. Most importantly, kids love playing with dough.
If you want to add something more complicated to your child’s gastronomic repertoire, be a little selfish and pick what you want to eat, suggests Lynn Walters, executive director of Cooking With Kids in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which teaches 4,300 children to cook every year. “Choose three or four dishes and let the child pick from those recipes — don’t just hand them a cookbook!” she says.
Stay Out of the Heat
If you want to keep things cool at first, one tasty recipe that doesn’t require the stove is to make ready-to-eat kabobs out of chunks of fresh tomato, olives, and precooked cheese tortellini. Beery also recommends making veggie dips and serving them in a hollowed-out red pepper to make the presentation fun.
Walters adds that teaching kids to grow food is as fun as it is educational. For young children, she recommends planting sugar snap peas, which have big seeds that are easy for tiny hands to manage, and kids also love to pick and eat them raw off the plant.
“I think kids are likely to want vegetables if they see them growing,” agrees Gaylon Emerzian, founder of Spatullata in Evanston, Illinois. Spatulatta has produced 350 online videos so far of kids making food from recipes. “There’s nothing more amazing than pulling a carrot out of the ground.”
If you’re not so hot in the kitchen, don’t over-stretch yourself — you can learn while teaching your child the simplest recipes, such as an omelet cooked in the microwave, and taking it from there.
Above all, shower your child with praise. Emerzian remembers fondly back to when she was 11, when one day she decided to make lasagna for her working mom. “I didn’t know what a clove of garlic was so I used the whole head, but when Mom came home she ate my very garlicky lasagna, and I remember she was incredibly happy,” she smiles, adding, “Although I’m not sure her coworkers felt the same the next day.”